Gender roles in Mexico are changing. Mexican culture, like that of other Latin American countries, has been in part defined by machismo – an intense strain of masculinity. Men have been expected to be authoritarian, aggressive, and promiscuous, and women have been expected to be submissive, dependent, and maternal.
In the past forty to fifty years, however, the role of women has been shifting, even though there has been little perceived shift in male attitudes.
- In 1953, women gained the right to vote and stand for election, and while the majority of Mexico’ leaders are still men, women are becoming involved in political and social movements.
- Previously, women rarely worked outside the home, and then only informally or on farms. Today women are working as domestic workers, street sellers, teachers, and nurses. The maquiladora factories lining the Mexican-US border are primarily staffed by women. These women often face discrimination and harassment, and their wages are significantly lower than men’s. As their numbers increase in the workforce, however, women are beginning to organize and participate in trade unions and social movements to improve conditions for themselves and other women.
Though women in Mexico are experiencing some advances in terms of status and human rights, daily life is still fraught with challenges and dangers. One extreme manifestation of this fact is the brutal murders of about 400 women in Ciudad Juarez since 1993, and the disappearance of many more. In many cases the women were kidnapped, tortured, and killed; many women remain missing and most cases remain unsolved. No persuasive case has been made by the authorities as to who is perpetrating these crimes or why.
Another significant change in terms of gender and family life in Mexico is the decreasing size of families over the last decades.
- 2007 statistics from the Population Reference Bureau show that the average woman in Mexico now has 2.4 children.
- The government has encouraged education and enacted policies designed to decrease the size of the population, and women have sought out abortion and contraception, notwithstanding the position of the Catholic Church and the legal prohibition of abortion. Deaths from illegal abortions are common, making this an important human rights struggle for Mexican women today.
- There are also other factors driving the lower birth rate: women moving to cities for work, away from extended families who serve as childcare and support systems, and an increase in education rates for girls.
- The smaller family size in turn is shaping the way that families function – women are becoming more independent and spending more time outside the home.